Author: Devin Henry

Abstract

Historically embryogenesis has been among the most philosophically intriguing phenomena. In this paper I focus on one aspect of biological development that was particularly perplexing to the ancients: self-organisation. For many ancients, the fact that an organism determines the important features of its own development required a special model for understanding how this was possible. This was especially true for Aristotle, Alexander, and Simplicius, who all looked to contemporary technology to supply that model. However, they did not all agree on what kind of device should be used. In this paper I explore the way these ancients made use of technology as a model for the developing embryo. I argue that their di ff erent choices of device reveal fundamental di ff erences in the way each thinker understood the nature of biological development itself. In the fi nal section of the paper I challenge the traditional view (dating back to Alexander's interpretation of Aristotle) that the use of automata in GA can simply be read o ff from their use in the de motu.

In: Phronesis
Author: Devin Henry

In this paper I examine Aristotle’s biological use of the concept of analogy. On the reading I defend, biological analogues are parts that realize the same capacity of soul or occupy a similar location in the animals whose parts they are but are not specific (“more-and-less”) modifications of the same underlying material substratum. The concept of analogy serves two principal functions in Aristotle’s biology. First, Aristotle uses analogy as a tool for classifying animals into separate natural kinds (Part 3). Second, analogy plays an explanatory role in which the same causal explanation is transferred to “φ and its analogue” (Part 4). Here the function of analogy is to group different parts into a single explanatory class unified on the basis of shared causes. One of the upshots of my interpretation is that, while analogical unity may allow us to posit a common explanation for φ and its analogue, it is not grounds for treating the class of animals that ­possess those parts as a natural kind. For Aristotle, natural kinds are groups whose shared similarities must result from common causes operating on a common material substratum.


In: Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
Author: Devin Henry

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to evaluate the level of gender bias in Aristotle's Generation of Animals while exercising due care in the analysis of its arguments. I argue that while the GA theory is clearly sexist, the traditional interpretation fails to diagnose the problem correctly. The traditional interpretation focuses on three main sources of evidence: (1) Aristotle's claim that the female is, as it were, a "disabled" (πεπηρωμɛνo;ν) male; (2) the claim at GA IV.3, 767b6-8 that females are a departure from the kind; and (3) Aristotle's supposed claim at GA IV.3, 768a21-8 that the most ideal outcome of reproduction is a male offspring that perfectly resembles its father. I argue that each of these passages has either been misunderstood or misrepresented by commentators. In none of these places is Aristotle suggesting that females are imperfect members of the species or that they result from the failure to achieve some teleological goal. I defend the view that the GA does not see reproduction as occurring for the sake of producing males; rather, what sex an embryo happens to become is determined entirely by non-teleological forces operating through material necessity. This interpretation is consistent with Aristotle's view in GA II.5 that females have the same soul as the male (741a7) as well as the argument in Metaphysics X.9 that sexual difference is not part of the species form but is an affection (παoç) arising from the matter (1058b21-4). While the traditional interpretation has tended to exaggerate the level of sexism in Aristotle's developmental biology, the GA is by no means free of gender bias as some recent scholarship has claimed. In the final section of the paper I point to one passage where Aristotle clearly falls back on sexist assumptions in order to answer the difficult question, "Why are animals divided into sexes?". I argue that this passage in particular poses a serious challenge to anyone attempting to absolve Aristotle's developmental biology of the charge of sexism.

In: Phronesis